Diablo 3 begins so simply. Talk to people, click on things, kill things. Occasionally hit a key on the keyboard. Cool things happen. Repeat.
Soon, though, as enemies are layered on top of enemies and spells on top of spells, things begin to go badly. You find your left hand hovering anxiously over the keyboard, hitting the keys in haphazard manner, while your right finger clicks furiously, both on enemies and random areas, making sure not to miss a thing. Once the enemies are cleared away, you find rest in holding down the mouse button, leading your character into the next dark area on the map; leading your character into the unknown.
Diablo 3 offers a series of systems that combine to create chaos – and not of the controlled sort. It’s the kind of chaos that causes the player to devolve into unhelpful panic; a chaos that makes no logical sense without any knowledge of the inner workings of the thing. We don’t understand why something is happening, and why all of these other things are happening all at the same time, but here we are, experiencing it. Two tree-like beasts call forth poison plants that cause your health to rapidly deteriorate. At the same time, two oxen-beasts charge mercilessly. All there is to do in response is to create your own chaos. You hammer on your mouse buttons, desperately trying to cast as many primary and secondary spells as you can. When you realize that they’re not producing enough chaos, you cast a spell that knocks the enemies backwards, giving you room to think. A single second of peace goes by as your enemies rise back to their feet, and the chaos continues, unabated.
The game encourages you to stumble into these situations, leading you into death traps and egging you on with timed blessings that you must rush into battles in order to make the most of. The multiplayer options only increase this sense, with up to four heroes desperately trying their best to ward off enemies and keep themselves alive, using all sorts of different effects – it’s like watching the encore of a fireworks show, except that you’re supposed to somehow be in control of it, and directing it in some useful fashion.
But the chaos also exists in the story, an assorted series of vignettes and barely connected happenings that have to do with loosed spirits and demons – and something about the end of the world. In Diablo’s world of spirits, nothing makes much sense. The spirit world seems to be at the whims of the ill-defined gods, haphazardly imagined but no less creepy for it. After all, what’s scarier than a world that one is utterly unable to make sense of? There are no apparent systems under-girding the spiritual world of Diablo – only two opposing forces, Diablo and “the gods” who seem to be mostly absent, or at least only present in the powers of our heroes. These forces clash with wild abandon, seemingly uninterested in the excessive damage that is caused, focused only on the end-game.
In a striking early example, the ghost of a young lady explains to our hero that she has been caught in a restless state ever since grave-robbers defiled her husbands grave. Because her husband was no longer beside her, she could no longer rest. This is the sort of lore that may be rooted from a romantic notion that a husband and wife are one another’s eternal source of peace, but when the logical implications of that notion are fleshed out, the result is jarring and creepy. When things don’t go according to plan, there is no greater logic to hold things together – at least not that we can see.
Diablo 3 illuminates the inevitable truth of chaos. Chaos starts simply: a few clicks, a romantic notion. But as time goes on and mishaps and unexpected events arise, we find ourselves in a panic, searching for the key to cast a freeze blast to buy us time to step back and think. Eventually, we gather up the boldness to click and hold, moving forward into the dark spaces on the map in search for a way out of this chaos, and better ways to manage it.
Score: 8 of 10